Virtual Limitations of the Flesh: Merleau-Ponty and the Phenomenology of Technological Determinism

Phenomenology and Mind 20:20-31 (2021)
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The debate between instrumentalist and technological determinist positions on the nature of technology characterised the early history of the philosophy of technology. In recent years however technological determinism has ceased to be viewed as a credible philosophical position within the field. This paper uses Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology to reconsider the technological determinist outlook in phenomenological terms as an experiential response to the encounter with the phenomenon of modern technology. Recasting the instrumentalist-determinist debate in a phenomenological manner enables one to reconcile the apparent dualism of the instrumentalist and determinist positions through Merleau-Ponty’s ontology of the flesh. This ontology has recently been used to ground accounts of virtual embodiment. We argue that in addition to explaining away the classical form of technological determinism, it can also phenomenologically ground a novel understanding of technological determinism. Namely, a technological determinism of virtual embodiment.

Author Profiles

Gregory Morgan Swer
University of KwaZulu-Natal


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